Hope for Tourism

WITH the second Covid-19 wave winding down, J&K tourism department has chalked out a plan to vaccinate the people associated with tourism to pave the way for the arrival of more tourists to Jammu and Kashmir. The department is also working to ensure that the SOPs are strictly followed to ensure the safety of the holidaymakers during their stay in the Valley. The administration has already carried out vaccination drives at tourist destinations. However, it will be sometime before the tourist arrivals get to the levels before the second wave.

Tourism in Kashmir had significantly picked up through winter. There were two favorable factors: one, the recurrent and heavy snowfall this winter. Snow is a novelty for most Indians, so Kashmir became their preferred destination. And second, the continuing ban on international travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.   So, a large number of tourists across the country made their way to the Valley. Acknowledging the trend,  Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel said in a statement in Rajya Sabha that the tourist footfall in the union territory this year has broken the record of the last 16 years.

Over the last more than two years, the tourism sector in Kashmir has grievously suffered. Fewer tourists turned up in the wake of the security lockdown and communication blockade following the revocation of Article 370 in August 2019. The Covid-19 lockdown that followed subsequently made Kashmir out of bounds for all kinds of visitors, like other parts of the country. Authorities banned the entry of foreign tourists into the region and also ordered the closure of parks and gardens, including tourist places like Mughal Gardens. Similarly,  Srinagar Tulip Garden, one of the largest such gardens in Asia where over 1.5 million flowers bloom, was also shut down. During April, May and June last year zero tourists visited the Valley. Following winter’s uptick in tourism, the fresh arrivals petered out as the second wave reared its head and soon overwhelmed everything. Since the latter part of March, there have hardly been any tourists. This cut the nascent recovery of the sector in its bud, leading to loss of livelihoods again.

This prompted the administration to announce a Rs 3 crore relief package for people employed in the industry. According to the package, Rs 2,000 financial assistance was provided to the registered shikara owners,  tourist guides,  ponywalas, and others, including those who rent palanquins for yatris. The money was paid for the two months to tide over the peak of the ongoing wave. But as is apparent this money is peanuts and would hardly have compensated for the massive loss due to loss of tourists. Here’s hoping that things improve from hereon. The complete vaccination of the population is certain to reign in the pandemic, creating conditions for businesses including tourism to reopen.

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